The Scottish Government programme set up to deliver CAP support to the agricultural industry continues to fail Scotland’s farmers and crofters at a growing cost to taxpayers.
In a damming report, Audit Scotland’s latest review of the CAP Futures programme states that it continues to have serious cost and operational issues, and is unlikely to ever deliver value for money.
The IT system’s inability to process and deliver applications for support in 2015 blew a £400 million hole in Scotland’s rural economy and led to the Scottish Government putting national funding schemes in place to bridge the funding gap.
The list of outstanding work still to be completed by the programme includes proper processing of all 2015 claims; completing the regionalisation and mapping requirements; delivering outstanding balance payments to all applicants; settling claims to the national reserve and distributing funds under the new upland sheep scheme. Problems around the mapping process has seen the deadline for 2016 support claims recently extended to 15 June – the second year in a row where IT problems around the application process have required an extension.
The catalogue of IT problems has caused lengthy delays, missed payment targets, and costs that have soared from an original estimate of £102 million to an estimated budget of £178 million. To compound matters, the scope of the programme has been scaled back even though the cost has soared.
That led Audit Scotland to come to the alarming conclusion that, with £126 million already spent, funds could run out before the IT system fully meets European Commission regulations. According to the auditor, non-compliance could lead to financial penalties of between £40million and £125million being imposed on the Scottish Government.
NFU Scotland has twice provided written evidence to Audit Scotland on the CAP Futures programme and, in autumn 2015, urged the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment committee to scrutinise the programme’s ability to properly deliver support to farmers and crofters.
NFU Scotland President Allan Bowie said: “The damming report from the auditor general on the Scottish Government’s calamitous CAP IT programme shows just how poorly Scottish farmers, crofters and taxpayers have been served with the unedifying prospect that the programme may never be fit for purpose.
“Far from being ‘back on track’, the legacy of failure is continuing and this report will guarantee that confidence in the system remains shot. The first job of our new Cabinet Secretary must be to get to grips with this debacle and ensure that the system becomes compliant and is fully functional before the money runs out.
“From an IT system that was supposed to simplify and deliver a good customer experience, we are faced with a system where the stated aim is, at best, to deliver the minimum possible to comply with EC regulations. But as the auditor points out, Scottish Government could yet run out of money before this is even achieved.
“The sad fact is that the scope of the programme has been reduced, removing all the planned benefits for farmers and crofters applying for support. At the same time, the budget has soared to an eye-watering level. That is an absolute disgrace and the public deserve a full explanation on just what has happened here.
“At this late stage, no-one knows if the Scottish Government can meet the EU requirement to pay 95.25% of support by 30 June and that is an appalling state of affairs. The IT system is still toiling to process and approve all applications made in 2015, and a clear priority for the new Scottish Government is to finish what it started. The financial hole that remains in the Scottish rural economy must be filled.
“Because ministerial targets on delivering support payments have repeatedly failed, much will have to be done to earn back the trust of the farming and crofting community so that they can believe any timetables which are given for payment delivery in the future.
“Looking ahead to the new parliament, it is imperative that accountability and transparency are better instilled throughout such processes: from the government management of such projects, down to the parliamentary structures tasked with scrutinising such projects, so that valid concerns, such as those raised in private and public on CAP payments, do not slip through the net.”